Stardate: 3417.3 (2267)
Original Air Date: March 2, 1967
Writer: Nathan Butler (a.k.a. Jerry Sohl), D. C. Fontana
Director: Ralph Senensky
“I am what I am, Leila. And if there are self-made purgatories, and we all have to live in them, mine can be no worse than someone else’s.”
The Enterprise has been dispatched to Omicron Ceti III, a distant planet where an attempt was made to establish a colony several years ago (in the year 2264), however after all 150 Federation colonists were sent to Omicron Ceti III, it was discovered that the planet is actually plagued by deadly “berthold rays.” Spock notes that these berthold rays destroys mammalian animal tissue and even limited exposure might kill humans. The chances of long-term survival on Omicron Ceti III are unlikely, but in order to fulfill its mission, the Enterprise maintains standard orbit, and Uhura opens the airwaves for any transmissions but all she receives is dead air.
The Enterprise has been tasked with investigating this situation on Omicron Ceti III. Spock’s analysis indicates that humans can survive about a week on the planet’s surface in spite of the berthold rays, so Kirk organizes a landing party to search for any survivors of the colony. The landing party consists of Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sulu and two others: DeSalle, and Kelowitz.
When they beam down a constructed farmhouse is visible. Kirk remarks on what could have been a successful colony. However suddenly, the colony survivors miraculously appear led by Elias Sandoval (Frank Overton). They have been living here for four years, and their sub-space radio stopped working. Generally speaking, the colonists have returned to an organic life in harmony with nature, growing vast fields and crops on this bountiful planet, and they maintain no mechanical tools, weapons, nor vehicles (all of their animals have died). Dr. McCoy completes a health scan of the colonists and he curiously determines that they are all in perfectly “excellent” health. In another strange twist, Sandoval once had his appendix removed years ago though his appendix has now miraculously re-grown inside his body. Kirk receives orders to evacuate Omicron Ceti III but the colonists refuse to leave.
A woman named Leila Kalomi (Jill Ireland) is a botanist who introduces herself as Mr. Spock’s old romantic flame. She leads Spock out to a strange flower whose spores are blasted in Spock’s face. Almost immediately, a strange sense of ease overcomes Spock’s typically stiff demeanor. He expresses romantic attachment to Leila, and he becomes unreachable via communicator while watching clouds and rainbows from a lush green meadow.
Several plants are then brought aboard the Enterprise and the whole crew becomes insubordinate after being infected through the ship’s ventilation system, and disobeying Kirk’s orders, they all decide to beam down to the planet. Alone on the ship, Kirk realizes he cannot pilot the Enterprise alone –he is in effect marooned, until finally he too is sprayed by the plant’s spores while on the bridge of the Enterprise. Before he can beam down to the planet (which would make it impossible for anyone to beam back to the Enterprise again), kirk soon figures out the infections’ weakness. He convinces Spock to beam back aboard the Enterprise and then proceeds to lob an array of insults at him —“half-breed!” “overgrown rabbit!” “subhuman!”— and Spock eventually responds with rage which actually removes the infection. Strong emotions undo the effects of the spores. Apparently, these Plants thrive on berthold rays and they act as a repository for thousands of spores in search of human bodies, but they also block the effects of berthold rays in humans.
At any rate, Leila is then beamed aboard the Enterprise, and she and Spock share a final embrace together –they reminisce about six years ago when they lost touch– before Spock says he cannot return to her. He must remain committed to his profession aboard the Enterprise.
Meanwhile the Enterprise broadcasts a subsonic transmitter to the surface of Omicron Ceti III causing the remaining crewmen on the surface to grow enraged with one another. But once they come to their senses from the plant’s effects, the colonists and Enterprise crew beam back aboard the ship and the Enterprise slowly speeds away. We hear Bones and Kirk whimsically ponder the nature of paradise, and then we zoom in on Spock’s face as he remarks on his experience on Omicron Ceti III –for the first time in his life he was happy.
“Maybe we weren’t meant for paradise.”
In an episode somewhat reminiscent of “Shore Leave” we are treated to a beautiful lush paradise replete with forests and farmland, and the scenes are overlaid with an inspiring symphonic score which is partly borrowed from “The Cage” and “Shore Leave.” These moments serve to accentuate the tender romance between Spock and Leila. At the same time, this is an anti-sentimental episode in which a kind of Rousseau-esque ‘return to nature’ is demystified and criticized as mere fantasy –the folly of the philosophers.
As with other recent episodes in the series, “This Side of Paradise” betrays a thematic critique of communities which are unable to face the full brunt of reality and its many associated difficulties (think the mind-numbing religious cult in “Return of the Archons” or the digital computer war in “A Taste of Armageddon”). Living in a false world devoid of struggle, honesty, authenticity, challenge, failure and other experiences natural to the human experience is an unacceptable proposition for Starfleet –regardless of the Prime Directive. The colonists on Omicron Ceti III live in an empty-headed state of ethereal bliss, but are they truly happy? The Greek word Eudaimonia –or the good life– implies there is more to happiness than mere empty-headed indulgence, and in this respect, the colonists have failed to stretch out and discover a higher way of being. Hence why upon awakening, Elias comments on the time he has wasted on Omicron Ceti III.
“This Side of Paradise” brings to mind the Lotus Eaters from Homer’s Odyssey, and it also anticipates the advent of 1960s drug-fueled hippie communes. No doubt, the Federation may use Omicron Ceti III for certain purposes in the future –perhaps as a rehabilitation program for depressives, or healing center since the regenerative properties of the plant’s spores can re-grow organs like a man’s appendix. While a few questions linger for me about the true nature of the berthold rays as well as the plant spores, broadly speaking this is an excellent episode of Star Trek.
Jerry Sohl (1913-2002) previously wrote “The Corbomite Maneuver.” His original script for “This Side of Paradise” contained some notable differences, such as a romance side-plot for Lt. Sulu and remarkably different reactions to the spores akin to the characters getting high on PCP. However, the Star Trek team was displeased with this direction and Gene Roddenberry invited Dorothy D.C. Fontana to edit the script, eventually leading to her full-time job as a writer/editor for the show. Mr. Sohl was unhappy with the changes to this episode so he listed himself under a pseudonym “Nathan Butler.” Of course, in addition to three episodes of Star Trek, Mr. Sohl is widely celebrated for his work on The Twilight Zone (as a ghostwriter for Charles Beaumont), Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Outer Limits.
Director Ralph Senensky (1923- Present) is apparently still alive as I write this review making him nearly 100 years old. He directed many episodes of classic television including an episode of The Twilight Zone and six episodes of Star Trek.
Star Trek Trivia:
- The title for this episode is taken from the poem “Tiare Tahiti” by Rupert Brooke and also the 1920 novel This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
- In Jerry Sohl’s original draft (originally entitled “Power Play,” and then “The Way of The Spores”), it was Lieutenant Sulu who was infected by the spores and was able to fall in love with the Eurasian beauty Leila. There were also unique telepathic abilities granted, and the effects of the spores were akin to being high on PCP.
- Dorothy Fontana very much liked this finished episode.
- At one point during their tender embrace, Leila asks if Spock goes by another name, but he merely smiles and says that she could not pronounce it.
- Jill Ireland who played Leila was initially concerned about being fitted into too risqué an outfit, however in the end she was pleased with her appearance.
- At the time of this episode, Jill Ireland was in the midst of a divorce from her first husband David McCallum but her new boyfriend Charles Bronson apparently occasionally visited the set during filming. Jill Ireland and Charles Bronson were later married not long after this episode aired.
- This episode was mostly shot at the Golden Oak Ranch in Santa Clarita, CA (Bronson Canyon) on land owned by Disney. It was also shot in a forested area near the Griffith Observatory.
- Frank Overton (1918-1967) plays the leader of the colonists, Elias Sandoval, in this episode. He appeared in such classic films as To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as Gig Young’s father in the classic Twilight Zone episode “Walking Distance.” He died a few months after filming “This Side of Paradise.”
- For some reason, Spock’s clothes inexplicably change after he is infected with the plant spores. This is the first time that Spock wears the green jumpsuit. He wears it again in “Spock’s Brain” while being remotely controlled.
- In his log, Kirk mistakenly refers to the planet as “Omicron III.”